Written by Jan Jaben-Eilon Thursday, September 01 2011
Snapshot: Sharon Sutila, founder, Cleves Research and Cluso Infolink
Sharon Sutila is managing director and founder of both Texas-based Cleves Research and Cluso Infolink, based in Bangalore, India. These companies utilize an internal background-check – processing engine using a quality control standard. Sutila developed the standard and is a leader in the background investigation industry.
Before founding these companies, she worked with IBM, Lotus Consulting, The Vanguard Group of Investment Cos., Arthur Andersen & Co., and SmithKline Beecham. As a business process reengineering consultant to IBM, Sutila worked to implement strategic global change initiatives in the areas of integrated product development, release for announcement, and client relationship management (in configuration and sales force automation.) Her interest with the security industry and decentralized data sources in the United States and internationally led to the formation of both companies for the purpose of building proficiency for background reports in both countries.
Her company focus is thorough background checks, especially global credential verification research required for high-risk placement. Sutila serves on the international committee of the National Association of Professional Background Screeners (NAPBS) as an India data expert.
A private pilot, she lives with her husband and two daughters.
Womenetics: What is the business model – where does your revenue come from?
Sharon Sutila: Our core business performs pre-employment screening with a focus on high-risk placement in the following industries: aviation, financial/banking, medicine, and IT. We have recently introduced the “egoCertified” report, preverifying claims normally listed on a résumé for professionals/consumers. We also sell India research for pre-employment screening to other USA background-check companies.
Womenetics: What do you do to build for future growth?
Sutila: As far as technology infrastructure, we have an IBM Domino Enterprise Solution, and our company has remote/home-based staff. This allows us to run very lean on expenses. I developed the background-check – processing engine, and the security is based on Domino infrastructure. Our solution is easily scalable to meet growing demands. Our system is not accessible for web browser traffic.
As far as our advisory board, I began to outsource the financial advice and exit strategy plan last year. I do not have a formal advisory board at this time. However, I do understand its advantages and will have one by the end of the year. As far as expanding into new markets, we are diversifying into a type of consumer-based background check called egoCertified.
egoCertified will be a core report for establishing trust between companies and individuals, and new subscriber services such as alerts for expiring licenses across industries will become available. We are also now offering India research to other USA background-check companies. I am also working on the expansion into nuclear power employment screening services (likely available by the end of the 2012).
As far as partnering with other companies, we have strategic partnerships such as with DiRTi.org, certifying their medical rapid disaster deployment teams (with egoCertified). We are also building other strategic partnerships with our existing loyal client base. I am always working on ways to network and build strategic partnerships for common positive outcomes.
Womenetics: How have you selected your trusted advisers?
Sutila: I've had our lawyers, Strasburger & Price, for a decade. They were introduced to me through a business program from the University of Texas in Austin. My close relative is my CPA, and I currently do not have a board. My company is a sole member LLC and I am the sole member. My background is in engineering technology. Before this company, I was a worldwide deployment consultant to IBM in the area of CRM and product development. I also have professional certifications in application development and system administration. But I do have a longtime consultant friend who is a security expert for a large international bank, and we work together to solve technical issues I need assistance with.
Womenetics: What would you do differently?
Sutila: I would have paid off all loans, held no debt, and if necessary sold assets that required loan payments. The lighter an entrepreneur is in debt, the less there will be with the delay it takes to make four to five times the revenue required to equal current pay received. It is difficult for a business to fail if it is debt free. Bankruptcy only occurs for companies and people that owe money. Business targets and projections can take much longer than anticipated, and the longer you can be patient, the more likely you are to succeed.
Womenetics: What associations do you belong to that have helped you with your business?
Sutila: I am on the board for the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO) in Dallas-Fort Worth, and NAWBO is excellent for strengthening leadership skills outside my business. There is also a sisterhood of support among us because we are all running businesses and share the pros and cons of owning a business. My company is also Woman Business Enterprise (WBE)-certified through Women’s Business Council Southwest. My marketing focus is not with supplier diversity. I am on the international committee with the NAPBS, our professional association. Our committee is breaking new ground and building a foundation of standards for ensuring reliable international research.
Womenetics: Have you gotten certified as a woman owned business? If so, has it helped you grow the business?
Sutila: Yes. I do not actively look for business through the supplier diversity channel. I am more focused on making sure our services the best available and the business opportunities tend to materialize.
Womenetics: Is your plan to sell?
Sutila: I am currently working on an exit strategy with the Vant Group, but not planning to exit anytime soon. I think it is important to have a company running as smoothly as possible (without me) because then it is at its most valuable.
Womenetics: How do you vet new employees?
Sutila: I have only hired people I know or who have been referred from people I know. We perform a thorough background check to ensure employees will pass an FBI background check.
Womenetics: Who has inspired you/mentored you the most?
Sutila: I am inspired the most by Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook) because I identify with the drive to succeed, and coming from an IT background I feel empowered to make change happen through technology. My father was my mentor. He's been an entrepreneur all my life and has advised me throughout all of my professional and personal challenges.
Womenetics: And last, do you take time for yourself and if so, what do you do?
Sutila: I love to travel. By coincidence, I married a pilot. Who doesn't want to "see the world?" But mostly for me it's all about doing something new. My interests do not stick to one thing very long because there are so many things I want to do and so many places I want to go. Ultimately the drive to succeed for me is to be able to do more when I finally retire.
Jan Jaben-Eilon was a founding staff writer of the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Since then, she has been the international editor of Advertising Age magazine and has written for such publications as The New York Times, International Herald Tribune, Washington Journalism Review, and Consumer Reports. She is the author of soon-to-be-published (There is) Life After Cancer. Jan and her husband have homes in Atlanta and Jerusalem.